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Defects found in a third of ferries in UK waters

A third of ferries operating in British waters have been found to have defects in their bow or stern doors and one ship has been detained for repairs. The ferries were inspected by safety officials in the wake of the Estonia disaster.

Of the 107 roll-on roll-off ferries inspected since extra checks were ordered after the Estonia sank in September with the loss of 900 lives, 35 were found to need minor repairs after the inspections by the Department of Transport's Marine Safety Agency.

The agency's chief executive, Robin Bradley, said: ``Common problems included slight leaks of rubber seals and minor fractures in brackets and fittings.'' According to the agency, ``none of the deficiencies compromised the watertight integrity of the vessel'' and repairs were made either before the ships sailed or soon afterward.

The ship detained was the Winston Churchill, which operates between Newcastle and Esbjerg in Denmark. Its owners sealed up its bow doors after the Estonia disaster but the British authorities found faults with its stern door on 7 October. It was allowed to continue its journey after repairs.

Brian Mawhinney, the Secretary of State for Transport, who was visiting Dover to oversee the inspection of a P&O ferry, the Pride of Calais, said he was surprised at the high proportion of ships that needed attention but emphasised that there had been no danger to passengers. ``We want to ensure the ferry operators maintain these seals because people seeing small amounts of water coming into the ship could become concerned,'' he said.

He watched as the inner of the two bow doors was sprayed with a high-pressure hose to check whether water could get past the seals. Ian Todd, P&O's press spokesman, said the test was routinely carried out by the Marine Safety Agency.

The agency carries out an annual survey of all 58 British-registered ro-ro ferries operating in British waters and also makes unannounced inspections of all passenger ferries at least twice a year. Dr Mawhinney is asking the agency to step up the number of unannounced inspections. The extra checks involved the hose test, examining bow door structures and locking systems, and checking procedures.

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